Remote handling encompasses the systems that will help us maintain the ITER device where space and conditions do not allow any manual intervention in the machine. Consequently, the work will be carried out from a distance. Myriads of interconnected components, pipes, cranes and tooling will need to be routinely repaired and maintained with millimetric accuracy. Like an orchestra, a conductor acting as the man in the loop would manipulate in a seamless manner the sophisticated robotic equipment performing the different engineering tasks.
ITER will be the first fusion device where welding and cutting of pipes will be routinely performed
through remote handling. Similar equipment has also been used in JET but conditions were such that manual deployment was permitted. The use of remote handling tools implies limited dexterity, limited vision and reduced manoeuvrability compared to a skilled technician.
Cutting and welding tooling must be made together with rigorous mock-up testing in order to ensure the consistent creation of the optimum joint. The need for R&D activity in this domain and its potential spill-over as part of ITER’s remote handling system led to a collaboration between F4E and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE). The main objective was to assess the current state of play and the development of future remote handling equipment for the alignment, cutting and welding of pipes taking as a case study the ITER neutral beam injectors. The works carried out under this contract started almost two years ago and amounted to 187.000 EUR contribution from F4E.
CCFE had to develop prototype proof of principle pipe maintenance tools and evaluate the tools and welded samples produced through parametric testing. On 26-27 October, the final meeting was celebrated at the premises of CCFE, close to where the UK’s future centre of excellence for Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) will be located. During a series of demonstrations, the CCFE and F4E teams were able to witness the performance of different mock-ups and acknowledge the progress and confidence in the tooling. The mock-ups are expected to feed in two contracts managed by F4E in the fields of the divertor and neutral beam remote handling systems. The advances stemming from this R&D activity are expected to generate savings in the two contracts and decrease technical risks.
The successful collaboration between F4E and CCFE demonstrates how important the transfer of know-how is from the lab to industrial hub and highlights the fact that ITER can act as a catalyst for greater innovation and breakthroughs.